PHILADELPHIA – A new committee will oversee the creation of a monument honoring slaves kept by George Washington at the first presidential mansion in Philadelphia, just steps from where the Liberty Bell now hangs, officials announced Thursday.
The committee, made up of historians, community activists and representatives of congressional leaders, will seek public input for the memorial and select its final design. The project is expected to be completed by July 4, 2007.
"There is a compelling obligation to illuminate the full history of this place and all its inhabitants – and no better place to do so than on the doorstep of the Liberty Bell," Mayor John F. Street said in a statement Thursday.
Washington and John Adams both lived at the site – now a wide sidewalk along Market Street – during the years that Philadelphia was the nation's capital, from 1790 to 1800. Historians say the site was also home to at least nine of Washington's slaves.
The president's house was torn down in the 1830s, but the new Liberty Bell Center, which opened in 2003, is located a few yards from where it once stood.
The project has been in the works for three years.
In 2002, Congress directed the National Park Service to build a monument commemorating the slaves who lived there. Last year, some black leaders accused the Park Service of dragging its heels; but park officials said the delays were caused by a disagreement among scholars over the exact location where Washington's slaves once lived, and a lack of funding.
Street committed $1.5 million in city funds to the project in 2003; now, the project also has the support of a $3.6 million federal grant, which officials said should cover the rest of the funding needs.